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Interview with Chinese Ambassador to the US; Egyptian Military Clashes with Morsy Supporters

Aired July 8, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

With China set to outpace the U.S. economy in the not-too-distant future, the relationship between these two great powers may be the most important in the world. I sat down with Ambassador Cui Tiankai, China's envoy to the United States, for a rare and exclusive interview.

And I'll have that for you in a moment. But first we turn to the dramatic events unfolding in Egypt, a violent clash early this morning between security forces and pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters has left more than 50 people dead. And there are conflicting reports over what exactly happened.

Supporters of the deposed president, Mohammed Morsy, said the army opened fire on them shortly before dawn as they were saying their morning prayers. Protesters were gathered at the headquarters of the Republican Guard, the army unit that's assigned to protect the presidency and where Morsy is said to be detained.

But security officials have a very different account and they presented this video as evidence that they were not the attackers. They claim the men circled here were, quote, "terrorists," whose attacks forced the military to fire. They say two of their own security officers were killed in the clash.

Today's violence plunged the country further into crisis. The Salafist Al-Nour Party, a hardline Islamist, had supported President Morsy's ouster. But today the group has walked away from talks on an interim government. They say its members are now referring to the Republican Guard massacre.

Khaled Dawoud is spokesman for Egypt's National Salvation Front, which is the anti-Morsy coalition, and he joins me from Cairo.

Mr. Dawoud, thank you for being with me in this incredibly tense time.


AMANPOUR: Can I ask you first --

DAWOUD: Thank you, Christiane. And indeed, it's very tense and very sad.

AMANPOUR: So let me ask you how is the anti-Morsy coalition, the millions of people with the political groups that supported them, going to make sure this violence doesn't continue?

DAWOUD: Well, we still continue to appeal to the Muslim Brotherhood and all political (inaudible) groups to join in us in a reconciliation project.

There is a road map that the Egyptians agreed on, the Armed Forces, together with national forces, the head of the Allazar (ph), the head of the church, Pope Tawadros. They agreed on a road map that would lead us towards a new round of presidential and parliament elections, hopefully within six months.

And we call upon all parties, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, to stop inciting their followers to carry out acts of violence concerning this to be an act of martyrdom and jihad. And the only way is for us Egyptians to sit together and agree on our future.

AMANPOUR: So do you think the security forces, the army also needs to be reined in when it comes to dealing with these protests?

DAWOUD: Indeed. We issued a statement today as the National Salvation Front, condemning all sorts of violence. We expressed, of course, our condolences to the families of the victims, who are all Egyptians, regardless of their political belonging.

And we demanded an immediate, transparent investigation because, as you mentioned, there are conflicting reports. We want to know what (inaudible) -- what pushed the army to use such an amount of excessive force to kill 51 million people. Of course you've heard the army's version. So we need some sort of a clear investigation into this.

But as I mentioned, since the Muslim Brotherhood started their sit-in in front of Rabaa al-Adawiya, a mosque in Nasr City, they've been openly calling upon their followers to die for the sake of Morsy. I have Mr. Mohammed el-Bentegi (ph), who's a leading figure of the Muslim Brotherhood, saying that seeking martyrdom to prevent the ongoing coup is what we can offer as a sign of gratitude to previous martyrs who died in the revolution.

And similar statements by Mr. Mohammed Badie (ph), the Supreme Guide, saying that we're ready to sacrifice Morsy with our blood. Don't push the young Egyptian members of the Muslim Brotherhood to die because of Morsy, because of the Muslim Brotherhood. Let's sit together. We can for national reconciliation talk, everybody came, including the Salafist Nour Party --


AMANPOUR: Well, of course, the Salafists --

DAWOUD: -- Muslim Brotherhood decided to boycott --

AMANPOUR: -- right, of course, the Salafists, after this event, have stepped away, which leaves you in a position where there are no Islamists in the national reconciliation that you're trying to achieve.

But more than that, aren't the Salafists now actually the deciders? They're the ones who rejected what I believe and you believe, I think, was going to be Mr. Mohamed ElBaradei named as interim prime minister. They said no.

I mean, they're the deciders. Doesn't this kind of turn on its head the opposition demands not to have, you know, Islamist policies dictate?

DAWOUD: Well, I mean, we are still continuing talks with the Nour Party. Of course, what happened today basically rearranged the entire order of events. The priority right now is to stop the violence.

We still think we can reach a compromise with the Nour Party or even with the Muslim Brotherhood themselves, when the Nour Party said they had reservations about Mr. Mohamed ElBaradei, although I think he would be a great prime minister, I mean, we went and offered another candidate, Mr. Vielba Vina (ph), an economic expert, who has a very good economic record.

But right now, unfortunately, the issue is more like stopping violence and restoring peace rather than the cabinet. And we still hope because he cannot deny that on June 30, nearly 20 million Egyptians, 15 million to 20 million Egyptians came out all over Egypt and (inaudible) departure of Mr. Morsy.

And we did not say we want to ban the brotherhood. We want a new round of presidential elections like a recall, like an impeachment because we're obviously in a state of deadlock and a near civil war because of Morsy's policies. So we want another chance in which the Muslim Brotherhood will participate, and Nour will participate without excluding any party.

AMANPOUR: But you said, you know, we're too busy talking about the violence to deal with the interim government. But surely you need an interim government right now in order to try to establish some kind of coherent control.

Why has the candidate for PM not been named?

Why is it not a done deal yet?

DAWOUD: Well, it's mainly until before the sad events of this morning. It was because of reservations from a Nour Party. They said they did not want a prime minister who belongs to our own front, National Salvation Front. They think that this would be the advice that they suggested some other names. That's the regular sort of negotiations that take place over naming prime minister and ministers.

But I don't think that we had reached the deadlock. The situation, the developments of this noon (ph), the attack, the 51 killed and the two army officers and one army and one soldier, one officer, one soldier, who were killed, changed the equation right now. And I think maybe but still we are going on the right track according to the road map.

I just read that perhaps later tonight we'll have a temporary constitutional declaration to determine a short period for the transitional period to go back to the ballot box. We don't want to have a military dictatorship.

We did not have a coup in Egypt. The army sided with us on January 25th against Mubarak and they sided with the Egyptian people also when a majority of them came and said we want a different president than Morsy.

So that's what we want right now, to go back to the goals of the January 25th, the revolution, to talk about education, to talk about health care, to talk about housing and not about an Islamic state or martyrdom and jihad operation or even seeking to divide the army.

The Muslim Brotherhood right now are chanting in the street, "We want a free Egypt army," which is totally irresponsible. We understand they are angry. We understand their grief, but not to the degree of destroying your own country's army, which maintained to be a national institution, usually siding with the people --

AMANPOUR: Mr. Dawoud?

DAWOUD: -- and not against the people.

AMANPOUR: We will -- we will continue to follow this. Thanks very much indeed for joining us.

And as I said, the crisis in Egypt is not gone unnoticed in faraway powerful China. State media there is warning, quote, "Certain Western countries should take the situation in Egypt as an example and not readily find fault with other countries."

That's a not very thinly veiled swipe at the United States. And it brings me to my exclusive guest tonight, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai.

It has been years since CNN or any other Western news outlets have spoken with a prominent member of the Chinese government. And Cui is on the front lines of carving out a new relationship with the United States, an effort which was ushered in by the new Chinese president, Xi Jinping.

It is possibly the most important relationship in the world and Presidents Obama and Xi kicked it off with an unusually informal get- together in Sunnylands, California, last month. Now if the surroundings were relaxing, the conversation about the challenges ahead almost certainly was not, from the NSA leaker Edward Snowden and all the secrets he's spilled, to cyber-security and North Korea.

I put all these questions to Ambassador Cui. We sat down at the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C.


AMANPOUR: Ambassador Cui, welcome to the program.

CUI TIANKAI, CHINESE AMBASSADOR TO US: Thank you, my great pleasure.

AMANPOUR: How important is the United States for China? How important is it to have a good relationship?

CUI: Well, the United States is the most powerful country in the world, the most developed economy in the world. And China is working very hard to modernize the country to develop its economy and improve the livelihood of its people.

So it's very obvious that it's important for China to have a stable and healthy relation with the United States.

AMANPOUR: Does China see itself as a superpower?

CUI: No, not so. We are still a developing country.

AMANPOUR: The Edward Snowden affair exploded into the public and Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker, went to Hong Kong. Now China obviously has massive influence over Hong Kong. And the United States was quite upset that China allowed Hong Kong to allow Snowden to leave.

CUI: You see, we have one country, two systems. We have this policy for Hong Kong. So basically the Hong Kong SAR government would follow their own laws and rules. The central government would not interfere, including in the Snowden case.

So the Hong Kong people, they were just going through their legal process, but somehow Mr. Snowden just left Hong Kong. But the government there had no legal ground to stop him. And we could just do nothing about that.

AMANPOUR: Because everybody thinks that China certainly didn't want Snowden, you know, in their back yard. And actually, it was China -- Beijing -- who told Hong Kong, just let him go; get him out of here.

CUI: I think, to begin with, the Snowden case is something between Mr. Snowden and the U.S. government. It's none of our business.

Of course, he made some revelations and then we still want some clarification from the United States about whether his revelations are true or not, because these revelations were about attacks on infrastructure, intrusion into the privacy of Chinese citizens and we just want to know if all these allegations are true or not.

But otherwise, this case has nothing to do with us. And it should not affect the overall relationship between the two big countries. This is an individual case.

AMANPOUR: Is China spying and hacking into American defense systems, for instance, as the U.S. accuses?

CUI: I don't think finger-pointing would be helpful to either side if we really want to respond to this new challenge of cyber-security. And technologically, the United States is much more advanced than China in information technology, you see.

So normally, I always believe it should be the weaker side to worry about the stronger side, not the other way around.

CUI: We have to work together on this issue, not against each other.

AMANPOUR: Do you think you can? Or are you inevitably pitted against each other in this regard?

CUI: I think the fact we already set up a working group on this is a good indication that both sides are ready to work together.

AMANPOUR: Another issue of great concern to the United States is North Korea. And they look to China to try to influence North Korea.

Do you believe there's a threat of greater nuclear destabilization? What are you telling the North Koreans?

CUI: Our goals on the Korean Peninsula are very clear. We stand up for denuclearization. We also stand for stability and peace. And we believe the best means to achieve our goals is dialogue and negotiation.

AMANPOUR: The thing is nobody quite knows whether for China stability is more important or denuclearization and a lot of people think that, listen, China's not afraid to be quite tough with other countries when it feels the need. But it always takes a "softly, softly" approach to North Korea.

CUI: I think that denuclearization and stability are part of the same thing. If you have nuclear weapons there is no guarantee of stability. If we have armed conflict in the process of resolving this issue, then we'll be defeating our own purpose. So I think we want to have denuclearization and we want to make instability (ph) -- this is actually the same goal.

And we have been very firm on this. For instance, we've voted in support of all these Security Council resolutions on this issue and we are implementing these resolutions very strictly and effectively.

AMANPOUR: Are you prepared to do more? Is there more that you can do?

CUI: We are doing a lot. We are trying our best to bring everybody back to negotiations. So far, we have not succeeded. We could -- we hope that others could do the same.

AMANPOUR: When you look around, odd as it may seem, China is not one of those countries with a lot of allies. Your main ally was North Korea.

CUI: We do not seek military alliances in the world but we do have a lot of friends in the world. We want to be friends to both North Korea and South Korea. You see, recently, the president of the Republic of Korea had a great visit to China and we are certainly friendly neighbors to each other.

We certainly want to maintain our friendship with the DPRK, but they have to give up their nuclear program.

AMANPOUR: They do?

CUI: They have to. They are not doing that yet and we are still working on them.

AMANPOUR: You used to be ambassador to Japan and there is a dispute right now between China and Japan over the islands. You both call them by different names.

What is your view on how this is going to be resolved? Is China prepared to go to war?

CUI: Well, you this dispute has been there for decades. It's not just a new dispute. It's an old dispute. And it's been quiet most of the years for the last four decades. Then why all of a sudden this is such an issue between the two countries?

I think that the reason is quite clear: the Japanese government took a wrong decision to sort of nationalize the islands. And this will certainly have very serious legal consequences for the relationship. And we had no choice but to respond.

AMANPOUR: So where do you think it's going to lead? Is China prepared to go to war over this?

CUI: We are prepared to have a negotiation with the Japanese. But the problem is that they still deny, they still don't admit there is a dispute over the islands.

AMANPOUR: The United States says it's not taking a side. Do you believe that?

CUI: I wish it could do that.

AMANPOUR: So you don't believe that?

CUI: Well, it's not a matter of whether I believe it or not. It's a matter of how the U.S. would really stick to this position of taking no side.

AMANPOUR: Is the view of China that it's taking Japan's side?

CUI: Sometimes you see when the U.S. is talking to us, they say one thing; and when they were talking to Japan, they could say another thing. So which is the real position of the United States? We have to wait and see.


AMANPOUR: And we'll be back with more of my exclusive interview with Ambassador Cui after a break.

Now for a rare glimpse behind the Great Wall at China's economic boom and the smoggy price of success. We'll have that after a break.

Before we take a break, another look at the ever-shifting sands in Egypt.

On a beach in India, a noted sand sculptor created this farewell message to Egypt's former President Mohammed Morsy. And it reminded us that only two years ago the same sculptor shaped a similar goodbye to Morsy's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. The tide of history, it seems, has washed them both away. And we'll be right back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program and a rare interview with a top Chinese government official, Ambassador Cui Tiankai, envoy to the United States.

China's economy is of vital interest and importance to the whole world. It's been galloping ahead for years in trade with China sustains much of the global economy.

I asked the ambassador about the effects of an economic slowdown and about sustainable development since the ubiquitous smog has made the China air pollution index app one of the most popular iPad apps for its increasingly alarmed citizens and for visitors as well.


CUI: I think that China is in the process of transforming its mode of economic development in the process of restructuring its economy. So a certain slowdown, the certain slowing down of the growth rate is the -- is only natural or even desirable.

But still, I think that the growth rate right now is still over 7 percent. I think that maybe it's still the highest in the world.

AMANPOUR: China's now the biggest polluter in the world. And that is not just something that the rest of the world is concerned about, but your own citizens are concerned about it.

CUI: We have 1.3 billion people, about 20 percent of the global population. And they want a better life. Some of them want like the Americans, a big house, maybe two cars per family. But this will not be possible if we really want to preserve the environment.

So we are in the process of changing people's perceptions that we have to keep a proper balance between their aspirations for a better life and the need to preserve the environment for future generations. We're just in the middle of doing this.

CUI: We just cannot follow you old path. We have to open up a new path of sustainable development.

AMANPOUR: President Xi has come to power with a great sense of high expectations in your own country and around the world. He's talked about reform. The word "reform" has been bandied about in China like never before.

What does it exactly mean? What is he going to reform? And how free is he to do that?

CUI: We have to reform the financial system, for instance. We have to restructure industries. We have to have more reforms about the agriculture and reforms about the social security system and the -- all these aspects --

AMANPOUR: Not political reform?

CUI: I don't think it will be easy to separate political reform from economic and social reform because all these reforms, when the political guidance -- and you have to reform the political decision-making process to pursue reforms in other areas -- and you have to change your political perceptions of many of the issues.

So these reforms are integrated. As we are pursuing further reform, a comprehensive reform package, it really will include, in a broad term, five aspects: political, economic, social, cultural and the environment.

AMANPOUR: I guess the way I want to ask you this question -- because it's been asked many, many times -- why, for instance, when CNN reports on human rights or certain domestic issues inside China, is the network blocked out in China?

CUI: Sometimes I don't think CNN or other media, other foreign media, really have a very accurate coverage of the realities in China. I think that, frankly, this is one of your problems. If you really want to be objective, if you really want to observe what is happening in China, then we're not against any criticism. We welcome very constructive criticism.

But the problem is that sometimes your -- I may not use the word distortion -- but you give a story that is not quite based on facts, not quite based on the reality there. That's a problem.

AMANPOUR: Maybe it's one reality, two visions.


AMANPOUR: And we'll be back with a final word from China's U.S. ambassador. We often think of the Chinese government as guarded in its official responses. But when it comes to North Korea, there was nothing guarded about Ambassador Cui's response to the Hermit Kingdom's nuclear ambitions. A surprisingly strong message when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, a last word from Ambassador Cui Tiankai, Chinese ambassador to the United States, on the much-touted U.S. pivot to Asia, even though, as we've seen, the Middle East is clearly not ready to be left behind.

Now Ambassador Cui told me the Pacific Ocean is big enough to accommodate both America and China. But I asked him again about North Korea, the biggest thorn in the side of that region.


AMANPOUR: Do you sometimes look at the trouble that North Korea is making and think to yourself, these guys need to calm down, because that's what's going to bring the U.S. more into our backyard?

CUI: I think we are against the nuclear program being on the Korean Peninsula, is there's really no question for is it a threat to our national security interests. But on the other hand, I don't think that the U.S. should overreact to such a threat.

The strengthening of your military alliances there, which is not quite in proportion to the real threat, so people have reasons to ask the question, what is -- what are you in yet really?

AMANPOUR: Ambassador, thank you very much indeed.

CUI: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And as we've mentioned a number of times before, in contemporary China, leaders are discussing a conflict as old as the Peloponnesian Wars, when Sparta, the emerging city-state, fought with Athens, the established power. Ever mindful of history and its consequences, the Chinese don't want a repeat of that devastating conflict.

And that is it for tonight's program. Meantime, you can always contact us on our website, Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.